“Everyone is taking something from God, so why not give something? We are taking from Krishna so much light, air, food, water and so on. Unless these resources are supplied by Krishna, no one can live. Is it love to simply keep taking and taking and taking without ever offering anything in return? Love means taking and giving also.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-Vidya, Ch 2)
At the heart of religious practice is the asking for benedictions from the object of worship. “Please Lord, let my team win the big game…Let me do well on this test…Ensure that my newborn child has a long and prosperous life…Let me never fall into poverty or be stricken with a terrible illness.” That these pleas are made is quite understandable and also indicative of a heightened level of consciousness. Only the fool, he who lacks even a basic understanding of the constant morphing of the nature around him and the guaranteed delivery of death, thinks that he can control everything through his own effort. Paurusham, or human effort, can only take us so far, for the higher powers are well beyond our control. Thus it is always beneficial to pray to God to help us through difficult situations. But we know from our own experiences that He has already given us so much. Therefore on the highest standard of worship there is both taking and giving. The taking part is easy, but the giving aspect is where we run into trouble.
Why are there problems with giving? The first issue relates to who should be on the receiving end of our donation of time, effort and money. Even in the non-profit sector of the economy, there have been many cases of fraud and abuse. If we donate our hard earned money to a worthwhile cause, we expect the recipient organization to utilize that money properly. Charitable organizations are expected to be legitimate, to deliver on their promises. When it comes to religion, giving to God is a little difficult because we aren’t necessarily sure who He is. There seem to be so many religions out there, with each group claiming that their worshipable figure is superior. Despite the apparent muddying of the waters, through careful analysis of how love works, we can make the right decision and thereby figure out to whom we should donate our valuable time and effort.
Real love operates through giving and taking from all parties involved. Just taking without giving is exploitation, a fact so nicely pointed out by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his wonderful work, Raja-vidya, which is a summary review of the Bhagavad-gita, the famous Vedic scripture which presents concise and clear information on spirituality, the differences between matter and spirit, the effects that time has on the body, and most importantly, who God is and how man should worship Him. Since love involves both giving and taking, it would be safe to assume that a system of spirituality that incorporates these two activities to maintain a bond of love with the Supreme Lord would be a legitimate one.
Is there are any other way to worship God? Do any spiritual traditions espouse a belief that one should not love God? To test for validity, to see if the system in question incorporates love or not, we can review the common recommendations put forth. Based on the basic definition of a loving relationship, we can see that simply asking God for benedictions once a week in a place of worship doesn’t meet the standard of pure love. The consciousness of the worshiper in this case may be elevated and advanced beyond the animal’s, but the giving aspect is not there. We give to our children by taking care of them and sacrificing our money and time. The same goes with our spouse and elderly family members. Ironically enough, pets are given more attention than the Supreme Lord under the taking mindset. Prayers to God to grant wishes are made periodically, but pet owners bow down every single day to pick up the waste deposits left by their beloved animals.
Simple prayer seeking a personal benefit is not enough to constitute love. Another avenue of spirituality involves meditation. This is the path taken by those who are fed up with material existence, the constant ups and downs, the dualities that must be encountered on a daily basis, and the unwanted influence of the senses. Meditation is focus; reining in the mind from where it surely will wander off. But again, there is no giving in this discipline, as there is no identified recipient of the meditational efforts. Meditation practiced as yoga can involve different breathing exercises and sitting postures, but there is nothing offered for another entity’s benefit. This is the central component to the practice of giving in love; the offered item must be in the recipient’s benefit.
At this point, the astute observer may raise a few objections. “How can God be benefitted by anything we do? If He is God, shouldn’t He already have everything He needs?” As soon as we cross over this mental hurdle, we will be able to find the true pathway to spiritual freedom. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the person we refer to as God, is described as atmarama, or self-satisfied. He never lacks anything, but at the same time, He is full of bliss, or ananda. Therefore, by definition, He is capable of feeling pleasure and thereby being pleased. If God can be pleased, why can’t our efforts be the source of that pleasure?
To repeatedly attempt to put a smile on the face of the highest authority figure is the ideal role of the subordinate energy expansions emanating from the Absolute Truth. In His original form, God is described by the Sanskrit word Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. He is the reservoir of all energy, and the multitudes of tiny sparks represent His energy expansions; therefore there is an inherent relationship between the two distinct entities. When the sparks act in the service of the source, there is bliss and harmony for both parties. The source of energy feels the greatest pleasure when there is a loving relationship established with any and all of His sparks. Krishna’s most exalted associates are those who fully utilize their loving potential to seek the Lord’s pleasure. They not only take from Krishna, but they also constantly give Him so much through their loving glances, kind prayers, and overall dedication of time, effort and personal interaction.
Krishna transcends all sectarian and sentimentalist boundaries because of the universal nature of the engagement that seeks to please Him: bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The religion of love is superior to any form of regulative practice because it is complete in every way; it is free of any defects and does not espouse any type of exploitation. Without establishing a loving relationship with the Supreme Being, there will always be a higher floor of spiritual practice to which one can ascend. The proof of Krishna’s divinity and His supreme status come from the results of practicing bhakti. For instance, we know that we love our paramours, friends and relatives because of the pleasure we derive from the give-and-take exchanges we have with them. Similarly, the love offered to Krishna brings the highest pleasure; therefore it can be understood to be the most advanced type of interaction, as one who is linked in consciousness to Krishna no longer has fear of punishment for transgressing the rules and regulations that go into establishing that relationship.
The beauty of devotional service is that it is not checked in any way. Our relationships with the creatures roaming the earth must end at the time of death, and they can also be dissolved prior to that through a disagreement or a failure of obligations expected from the counterpart being met. But with the Supreme Lord, the opportunities for service are endless. The most notable spiritual sparks, those who are purely Krishna conscious at all times, are so infused with love that not even Krishna can stop their donations of affection and surrender of their heartfelt emotions. Only in divine love is this powerful force witnessed, as no ordinary object could stir such passions within the individual that they continue with their service day after day, life after life.
With respect to Krishna being beyond requiring service, we can look to the interactions of the young child with their parents to see how superiors can be pleased. A young child will often paint pictures, make drawings, or create sculptures in school and then bring them home to the parents as a gift. “Mom, I made this for you. Dad, I hope you like this.” When these offerings are made with love and affection, the delight felt by the parent is unmatched. The constitution of the gifts is meaningless, as the parents already have everything they need in life. The child is incapable of making anything very wonderful, but just the sincere thought and the desire to give something to the elder is so nice and heartwarming that the parent becomes endeared to the child forever.
In a similar manner, Shri Krishna, as the original father, is endowed with every attribute of opulence imaginable; thus He doesn’t require anything for His happiness. But if we, His children, out of love, offer Him a fruit, flower, a leaf, or some water, the Lord kindly accepts it. Indeed, He dashes to wherever the offering is made, enjoying the gift as if it were the sweetest nectar to be found in the world. Those whose eyes have not yet been anointed with the salve of transcendental love will never be able to understand how this works. Indeed, it takes steady practice in bhakti to become firmly convinced of Krishna’s statement in the Gita where He confirms the pleasure He derives from the sacrifices made by those who love Him.
Donations of time and money to our fellow man can bring personal satisfaction for some time, but with Krishna the giving can be endless. More than anything else, the one thing any person can sacrifice, irrespective of their position in life, is time. Time is best sacrificed when a good portion of the day is spent reciting the Lord’s names. In this regard, no sacred formula is more infused with the loving spirit, one that both takes and gives, than the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. What is the difference between chanting Hare Krishna and asking God for benedictions? In an ordinary prayer, the central component is taking. The desire to get something serves as the most common impetus for the initial jump into spiritual life. In the conditioned state, the living entity believes there is a difference between material and spiritual life. Typically, the material aspect of life takes precedent, and when there is trouble, as there is guaranteed to be, the toggle is switched to spiritual life, wherein the higher power is sought out for benedictions or the alleviation of distress.
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.16)
When Hare Krishna is chanted properly, the mood is one of love, where giving is as important as taking. Krishna’s name can be recited at any time and in any fashion, such as through singing or writing. Kirtana is typically equated with singing the glories of the Lord with others, but the word’s real meaning is “to describe”. Therefore even writing about the wonders of vishnu-bhakti, or devotional service, and the worthiness of worship of the recipient of the service, Shri Krishna, is considered kirtana. Chanting Hare Krishna itself is the very embodiment of describing the Supreme, as the name automatically carries with it the forms, pastimes, and attributes of the Lord.
The maha-mantra’s superiority over other religious formulas is found in the motive of the actor. There is no desire for alleviation of distress, the merging into an energy of nothingness, release from the cycle of birth and death, or the procurement of a grand opulence. Rather, when the mood of devotion reaches its peak, the motive of the actor is as pure and simple as the young child’s mindset is when offering service to the parents.
Bhakti-yoga is the religion of love because the fuel for action is the desire to associate with the reservoir of all pleasure, to be engaged in His service all the time, and to be allowed to continually glorify Him through kirtana. From these properties bhakti’s supremacy is fully established, and so is that of its prime beneficiary, Shri Krishna, who is actually not different from any other person’s conception of God. Whether we view the Lord as being impersonal, dull matter, nature, an old man with a beard, or a punishing force who tortures us in a lake of fire should we not accept Him, Krishna’s supreme position remains unchanged. But only through bhakti can we get a glimpse into the Lord’s true nature and thus derive the full benefit of our existence, which is to experience ananda of the spiritual variety. Rather than continue to exploit the wonderful benedictions already provided to us by the greatest order supplier, through a simple shift in consciousness, through both taking and giving, we can experience the full spectrum of enjoyment that spiritual life has to offer.